Note-Taking Strategies: Mastering Your Classes

August 31st, 2015 / By Eastern College

Doing well in school seems like a much more daunting task than it usually turns out to be once you work out a system for yourself. Don’t worry about perfecting that system though—it’s always changing! You’re at Eastern to learn, after all; it only makes sense to invest in your own system of taking notes.
woman taking notes in class

In addition to motivating you to pay attention, taking notes in class can help you learn. Listening and summarizing what you hear will help you understand and remember what was said in class.

Balance Speed and Organization

You can’t jot down every word that your instructor speaks, and that’s fine. Focus on getting the essence of what the instructor says instead. This often involves writing in some form of personal shorthand or writing in point-form. Remember that you’re taking notes, not writing a philosophy textbook. Writing acronyms cuts down the time it takes to record common ideas. Here are some examples:

  • Supply Chain Management = SCM
  • Patient medical records = PMR
  • Small Claims Court = SCC

Does your instructor speak quickly? For technical scenarios with clear precedents or procedures—like law, for example—then you will need to make use of symbols and some immediately recognizable visuals in your notes. Don’t record everything in the form of a paragraph if it’s faster and more intuitive to do it with visuals!

  • Use pyramids to understand hierarchical concepts
  • Use flow charts to illustrate processes quickly
  • Use pie charts to understand ideas related to distribution and operations

The key to effectively taking notes is balancing your writing speed with readability. You do need to be able to read your own notes again, after all! Write notes in the margins to help your future self understand the course material later, but don’t clutter your page with little blurbs. Leave enough white space to make it clear what’s important on your page of notes.

Learn on Your Own Terms

Next in the mix is your own comprehension. You need to account for your own ability to understand the material and your notes down the line. This becomes a broader practice about learning in general, but we’ll keep it to the realm of note-taking for now.

Taking notes quickly requires you to delve into acronyms, shorthand, and symbols—but it also lets you understand the course content on your own terms. That’s a general key to learning, and it applies to your notes as much as anything else. Make pop-culture references or pneumonic tricks to help you understand and remember ideas accurately if that’s what it takes!

Take notes on your own terms. They’re your notes, after all! They won’t be very useful to you if you can’t read them later. Colour-code certain ideas, subheadings, or important things. Just make sure that your system works for you.

Internalize the Content

You also need to internalize the material that you record in your notes. Understanding it on your own terms after you’ve quickly jotted it down comprises two-thirds of the battle. Condensing the notes is the last stretch.

You should take notes by hand at every stage of the process, but you really need to take them by hand while condensing your notes. There just isn’t another way around it. Your brain registers the movement of handwriting far more than typing.

Why would you condense your notes? Repetition is the key to building long-term memories. Putting 10 minutes into condensing the day’s notes into a more compact page a) reinforces the material in your long-term memory bank and b) allows you understand more of the course content from an overhead perspective. Condensing your notes also lets you organize things visually in a more free-form style that lets you put your thought patterns onto the page intuitively.

That’s how to take notes like a professional. It sounds a lot like studying—and it is—but the trick is to put a little bit of time into your note-taking strategy to make sure that you don’t need to pull an all-nighter just to forget everything as soon as you write the exam. Ten minutes per day keeps the pre-exam jitters away. Get in touch with our Student Support Services Team if you haven’t yet found a strategy that works for you.


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